File spoon-archives/lyotard.archive/lyotard_2001/lyotard.0107, message 66

Date: Fri, 13 Jul 2001 11:41:16 +0100
Subject: Re: ethics - Levinas

D and All,

Interesting note - I'm not familiar with the Derrida material - I'm planning to
read it on the plane to Dallas on monday - (yes back to the Dallas-Texas for
three days)... The readings of the Levianas material I'm familiar with are
Irigaray (To be two), Badiou (Ethics) and Critchley's (Ver Little ... almost

Two additional issues need bringing forward which seem critical in the work -

1)    How Levinas escapes from the 'logic of the same'. Levinas maintains that
metaphysics is still enframed within its origins in Greek thought. This has
ensured that thought is located in the 'logic of the same', the trajectory
Levians takes up assigns a primary relation to substance and identity.  It is
not possible argues Levians to arrive at authenticity in the thought  of the
Other and an ethics of the self/other relationship when the intellectual thought
is founded on the logic of the same, a position from which it is not possible to
recognise the Other. Because of this rejection Levinas opens up the ground of a
new non-Greek base for thought - namely the Jewish Tradition. This tradition
enables Levinas to produce (or re-produce), through his relationship with
Heidegger, the notional being preceding the same. The 'Greek is the academic
language' the Jewish tradition is the Other, the container of sacrifice and

The western philosophical tradition assumes according to levinas, the
manifestation of being as the the starting point of all sense - in part perhaps
his work is a response to the challenges thrown up from the scientific tradition
which places 'sense' as something always external to the human world. Within
this scientific tradition we are inhabitants of a non-human non-theistic world.

2)    The use of phenomenological tests for investigating the Other, the core of
which lies the face, the direct relation between the self and the Other in
person. The presence of the body, not about recognition which would be about the
recognition of the Other as resembling oneself.  Being perhaps the same. But
being that which we/I are ethically 'commited' to the appearing of the Other...
Do these phenomenological tests function adequately as means of establishing the
ethical background of the S/O relations given the absurdity of placing all
relations in the proposed trinary relationship? Levinas places ethics as the
core of philosophical though prior to all other thought - is this acceptable
given the historical uses and reactionary direction of elements of his thought?
(The focus on the human, the use of theology...).

(Used Basic philosophical writings and Entre Nous (Think of the Other...))

3)    Grounding a thought in ethics, as Levinas does places ethics in a direct
relationship with religious thought - which in effect ensures that the
intellectual and historical baggage that comes with religious thought has been
assumed by his ethics. Hence the implicit relationship with defining and
understanding 'the other as victim'. This returns us directly to the mainstream
of western thought - the passivity of the other...



"D. Diane Davis" wrote:

> Hi, all. I'm prepping for class (trying to stay 5 minutes ahead of my
> students this summer), so can't really flesh this out right now. But i'm
> interested in this Levinas discussion, and i want to make a coupla quick
> comments. First, sdv writes:
> >In Trace of the Other and in Meaning and Sense Levinas became
> >convinced that the only way in which he can guarantee a form
> >of ethical thinking that won t return to the self, to the same,
> >is by not just relating to the human other, but by making the
> >human other relate to something beyond itself, what he calls
> >the trace of illeity ,or the divine, or God.
> There is no doubt that Levinas was a God-guy. But it's important that via
> this notion of Illeity, he totally re-scripts what we call "God" and the
> "divine." God--as an entity, guarantor of Truth, etc,--may be dead (though
> this in itself deserves a long discussion since God seems more like the
> Great Undead, like the Idea that wouldn't LEAVE). But Levinas's God, as the
> trace of Illeity (of the Other), lives on, operating as the basis for
> ethical relations (after God-the-Entity).
> The trace of Illeity flickers (without ever finally and fully appearing) in
> any/every saying, in what L calls Conversation or the relation with the
> other. The trace of Illeity is the flicker of the Other in the other: the
> other's radical inappropriability. When, as i converse with you, i catch
> this trace of Illeity, I experience a kind of immemorial remembrance, the
> upsurge of an unconscious "memory" of the O/other who, because s/he needed
> me, hailed me into existence as a "Me." Because the Other made "me"
> possible, I owe it EVERYTHING--and because this Other pre-exists any notion
> of (my and your) Self, there is no way to ever be done with this gigantic
> responsibility; it is much bigger than "I" am. It is because I owe the Other
> everything that I, to use one of levinas's frequent examples, will stand at
> an open door and say "after you."
> Certainly, Levinas maintains terminology (metaphysics, God, etc.) that is
> uncomfortable for "us" today, and Derrida gets him for it in "Violence and
> Metaphysics." But i think it's important to acknowledge the ways in which
> Levinas also unworks these terms, particularly in his later works, and most
> particularly in _Otherwise than Being_. Derrida's notion of the trace and
> his ethical imperative "Come!" are both snagged from Levinas, which
> indicates that Levinas's terminology and ethics are extremely complex and
> not easily dismissed. L doesn't, imho, manage to get past certain
> androcentric and anthropocentric assumptions--and derrida gets him for this,
> too, in "Eating Well"--but he does take us light years beyond typical
> conceptions of "metaphysics" and "God," light years beyond the conception of
> God that one would need to deny via an atheistic stance. (In a Levinasian
> context, it seems to me that denying "God" is something like denying
> differAnce.)
> Second, Simon Critchley offers a really nice reading of Levinas and Lacan in
> one of his books (sorry, can't remember which), noting the incredible
> similarity between the way the two describe the construction of the subject
> as an effect of an immemorial trauma. Interesting read. I guess what i want
> to ask you is how you are defining "finitude." Because Jean-Luc Nancy's
> post-Heideggerian redescription makes finitude the infinite lack of an
> infinite Identity--or, as Avital Ronell puts it: finitude is the infinite
> inappropriability of meaning and being. This approach busts any clean
> distinction between finitude and infinitude. In fact, the finite becomes
> that which *absorbes* the infinite. It is only because you, in your
> finitude, exceed any interiorized image i may have of you, that you manage,
> irrepressibly, to "make an entry" into my "world," shaking my little web of
> beliefs, and sparking in "me" an experience of expropriation.
> I really am going to be LATE if i don't stop--just wanted to toss out those
> thoughts. Still listening...
> best, ddd
> ______________________
>      D. Diane Davis
>      Rhetoric Department
>      University of Iowa
>      Iowa City, IA 52242
>      319.335.0184


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